The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) has set up a knife database in response to the increased use of knives among young people in recent years. This should help the police in tracing perpetrators of incidents involving knives. “It may be a clue where to look.”
Part of the knives in the knife database of the NFI (Photo: NFI)
A stabbing incident with drillrap groups in Scheveningen prompted the NFI to investigate the type of knives that minors carry with them. Earlier it became clear that 12 to 18 year olds are increasingly involved in stabbing incidents. The number of arrests of minors for illegal possession of firearms and stabbing weapons has also increased sharply in recent years.
After consultation with the police and the Public Prosecution Service, the institute was given permission to examine knives seized in the eastern Netherlands during searches or surrenders. The knives are normally destroyed, but a part has now been included in a reference database at the NFI.
The database and recent studies show that stabbing weapons seized from minors are larger than average and are intended to cause as much injury as possible. One of the initiators of the database, microspore researcher Martin Janssen, is shocked by what he found, he says in a message from the NFI: ‘We are seeing increasingly larger knives. These are, for example, knives with saw serrations, chopping knives and so-called Rambo knives. These are not knives you find in the kitchen drawer.’
‘The big knives are just swords,’ adds his colleague Peter Zoon. “The largest is more than half a meter.” By way of comparison: the average length of a blade of knives examined by the NFI is less than fifteen centimetres.
Even more than the type of knives, Son and Janssen are impressed by the numbers seized by the police. In two years time, about 900 knives were sold in the eastern Netherlands. Janssen: ‘It is sometimes said that these knives can mainly be found in the Randstad, but that is certainly not the case.’
The database with photos and composition of the collected knives helps the NFI experts to estimate the type of knife used after a stabbing incident (in which no weapon was found). For example, the different coatings on knives leave different traces. Janssen: ‘Ultimately, we want to be able to calculate the evidential value in criminal cases instead of estimating it with the information in the database. What is the probability that a certain type of knife was used compared to other knives?’
The NFI usually only investigates fatal stabbing incidents. Experts examine, among other things, the depth of the stitches. The studies show that stabbing incidents in, for example, relationships, usually take place with home, garden and kitchen knives. Injuries to and by minors are often caused with larger knives, says Zoon. ‘It is evident that the risk of serious injury is greater when using such large knives.’
On behalf of the police, Martin Sitalsing (Health and Safety portfolio holder) calls the NFI’s findings worrying. They are in line with concerns about increasing gun ownership and use by young people. ‘Police officers on the street experience daily that young people find it more and more normal to carry a weapon. Carrying guns should never be considered normal. If you have a weapon in your pocket, you are more likely to actually use it.’
‘Unfortunately given how serious injuries can be’
Policeman Guyon recognizes the picture that the NFI paints. In the Laakkwartier district of The Hague, he is involved with rival youth groups, such as drillrap groups. He sees how gun ownership among the members is increasing and the knives are getting bigger and bigger: ‘These are knives with serrated edges, machetes or huge blades. I’ve unfortunately seen how serious the damage these weapons can cause.’
The youths Guyon encounters on the job carry weapons to defend themselves against attacks by members of rival groups. ‘But they also consciously seek out other groups to seek confrontation. The weapons are also used to commit crimes. Possession of stabbing weapons increases status. Young people flaunt it on social media. Violence is glorified.’
In addition, prohibited weapons can be easily purchased via the internet. There they are offered on a large scale, for an amount of a few tens at the most.
According to Guyon, the knife database can have great added value for the police: ‘If the NFI can put us on the trail of a certain type of knife, that will help in the investigation. Certain knives are common within youth groups. If we know that such a knife has been used, it may give us an indication of where to look. It can also be useful when searching a house if you know what kind of knife you are looking for.’